The Irish Times view on independent Barbados: a different Brexit

Shaking off the largely formal but symbolically important vestiges of colonial rule

Prince Charles with president of Barbados Sandra Mason, and the country’s prime minister Mia Mottley after the presidential inauguration ceremony on November 30th in Bridgetown, Barbados. Photograph: Jonathan Brady - Pool/Getty Images

Prince Charles with president of Barbados Sandra Mason, and the country’s prime minister Mia Mottley after the presidential inauguration ceremony on November 30th in Bridgetown, Barbados. Photograph: Jonathan Brady - Pool/Getty Images

 

On the outskirts of Barbados’s capital Bridgetown, the statue of Bussa, a slave who led a failed revolt in 1816 – his face lifted triumphantly to the sky and holding broken chains from outstretched arms – stands testimony to the legacy of 400 years of British rule, and the resistance to it. It is a history to which Prince Charles, representing Queen Elizabeth, adverted on Tuesday, “the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history”, as he came to acknowledge the island’s affirmation of its status as a republic after 55 years of its independence.

This was Barbados – population 300,000 – in its own version of a “Brexit”, shaking off the largely formal but symbolically important vestiges of an at-times brutal colonial rule. Just as Ireland had done on Easter Sunday 1949 when it finally jettisoned the monarchy and left the now loose alliance led by the queen that is the 53-nation Commonwealth – 2.4 billion strong – to which the new republic of Barbados still adheres.

There was no talk by Prince Charles of the great legacy of the civilising influence of empire, but rather a sombre and apologetic leave-taking with promises of long-term friendship.

The legacy is not yet sorted, however, as the exclusions from the UK of its own citizens in the Windrush scandal reminded islanders. And prime minister Mia Mottley in July called again for Britain and former colonial powers to pay reparations to Barbados and its neighbours for the slave trade that between 1627 and 1807 saw British ships carry thousands of Africans to the island to work in vast sugar plantations in brutal conditions.

The island swore in its first largely ceremonial president as head of state, local woman Sandra Mason, who was previously Queen Elizabeth’s representative as governor general. She joins another woman, Mottley, leading an island that is facing labour shortages, the effects of climate change, and economic difficulties due to the impact of Covid-19 on tourism. But now, at least to the extent possible in this globalised world, the master of its own fate.

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